4/17/2016 Fourth Sunday of Easter The text: John 10:22-30.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! With these words, we proclaim our heritage as citizens of the kingdom of God. We are no longer Swedes or Liberians, Germans or French; we are brothers and sisters in Christ. Our heritage is found in an empty cross and an empty tomb.
But not everyone understands this. A California pastor once told of an incident that happened to his daughter whose high school class assignment was to give an oral report on her heritage. Her ancestors were from Germany and they had been in the sheep business for generations. So proudly claiming her Teutonic heritage, the girl led off her report by declaring: “I come from a long line of German Shepherds.”
We, of Judeo-Christian heritage, can proclaim something more than this for we come from a long line of people blessed by God’s grace, and chosen to serve. We, also, come from a long line of sheep and shepherds. Many famous figures in Hebrew history were tenders of sheep, including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jacob’s sons, Moses, and David. And these same figures were also sheep in their relationship with God who was known to them as the Good Shepherd – the Lord who led them to green pastures and to the waters of life.
We are both shepherds and sheep through our relationship with our God who is both the Good Shepherd and the lamb who was slain, whose blood marks us as God’s people, a people worthy of being saved. Like our Lord, we are leaders of sheep, shepherds who gather our little flock, to lead them by word and deed to our Lord. At the same time, we are sheep, members of the Lord’s fold, who listen to his voice and follow him to safety.
But his voice is not the only voice calling us by name. When we get up in the morning, we hear the voice of our family members. When we get to work, there is the voice of co-workers and bosses, then if we go to school, we need to listen to the voices of teachers and principals. Then there are friends and classmates. And the voices of disc jockeys and talk show hosts, and newscasters and advertisers. Add to that the thousands of other voices which fill our lives and we have a cacophony of sounds coming toward us, trying to sway us in one direction or another.
As sheep we need to learn the voice of our leader; we need to listen to the one whose voice can be trusted above all other voices calling to us by name. For as a farm youth once told his college classmates when questioned about sheep, “I’ve seen a whole herd of ‘em running wild. And, man, could they move. If my father hadn’t called to them and corralled them, they would have torn up our place and injured – even killed – themselves.” Without a leader, a clear leader in our lives, we are like sheep running amok, without direction and without a safety net. We are in danger of hurting ourselves and others if we ignore the voice of our Lord. And choosing the wrong voice to follow, the wrong leader can be just as dangerous as having no leader at all.
An experiment was once conducted in a college sociology class, which shows how people will usually follow the lead – like sheep. Seven pieces of string, precisely two feet long, were placed side by side on a table. Next to those seven pieces the experimenter placed an eighth piece of string, which was a clear six inches shorter than the others.
Six people were then brought into the room. Five of them were plants, and the sixth was the subject of the experiment. The experimenter asked several questions, among which was “Are all these pieces of string the same length?” To this the first plant answered with an emphatic, “Yes!” Then each of the other plants did the same, in turn, continually reinforcing the first “Yes!” In three quarters of these experiments, the last person, the subject of the experiment, also answered affirmatively even though one string was definitely shorter. When the experiment was repeated without the plants, the response was “no” in more than nine out of ten tries. Peer influence, according to this data, is very powerful. But is this the voice to be trusted?
The Lord would like us to choose a different voice, his voice to be the guiding force in our life. The Lord would like us to become so familiar with his voice that we can pick it out in a crowd, in the blare of a thousand other voices. But in order for us to be able to do that we need to be seeped in his word, spoken and preached, sung and written. We need to worship him regularly, pray daily and come to the Lord’s Table often. For we will never be able to recognize his voice if we keep him at arm’s length. He needs to become part of us and our lives. For it is his voice alone which can be trusted to guide us along the right pathways all the days of our lives. And he promises to bring us to still waters and green pastures as he brought the people of old out of the wilderness of their lives into the Promised Land. This shepherd has something in mind for his sheep. For this shepherd brings us into a new relationship with God, one in which the sheep become something more like shepherds in the way they faithfully live their lives, even when it costs them greatly.
We are to be both sheep and shepherd as we follow the voice of the only one who can save us. As shepherds we are to live lives that faithfully echo his voice in a world filled with noise. As sheep led by the Good Shepherd we dare to speak the truth, walk a different path, and love one another, as God loves us.
May we listen and may we become so familiar with the voice of the Good Shepherd that we follow his voice alone. And may our lives and the lives of those whom we touch be blessed by our following him who is the source of life and salvation. For Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! That is our heritage and his promise. Amen.
Now may the peace of the God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.